Who Gets the Hardware? Predicting the 2011 NFL Award Winners
We don't know where free agents will land for the 2011-2012 NFL season. We don't know who will be traded and which team they will be playing for next season. Heck, we don't even know if there will even be football this fall. But, that doesn't mean we can't take a shot at predicting which players will be taking home some hardware after everything's said and done.
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Winner: Philip Rivers
Rivers is long overdue for this award. Over the last three seasons Rivers has averaged over 30 passing touchdowns, 4,300 passing yards, and only 11 interceptions. Last season Rivers found a way to throw for 4,700 yards, despite not having star receiver Vincent Jackson for half of the season. With Nnamdi Asomugha likely leaving the AFC West, there is a small but realistic possibility that Rivers throws for over 5,000 yards, which should make him a lock for MVP.
Runner-up: Tom Brady
Brady wasn't the most flashy quarterback last season, throwing for under 4,000 yards. However, he led the league in touchdown passes and led the Patriots to 14 wins, all while throwing only four interceptions. If he's even half as judicious throwing the football this season, then there's a good chance he wins the MVP on efficiency alone.
Dark Horse: Matt Ryan
Ryan took a big step forward last season, throwing for 28 touchdowns and over 3,700 yards while only throwing nine interceptions. With the addition of speedy wideout Julio Jones, the Falcons have one of the league's most dynamic offenses, and it's very likely that Ryan will throw for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns while once again leading the Falcons to the best record in the NFC.
Offensive Player of the Year
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Winner: Michael Vick
Accumulating 3,000+ passing yards, 600+ rushing yards and 30 total touchdowns vs. nine total turnovers is impressive, but even more so when you essentially missed five games. Admittedly, Vick's numbers did decline in the last quarter of the season, but with newly drafted Danny Watkins buying Vick some extra time, it's not unrealistic to think that Vick could eclipse 3,500 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.
Runner Up: Jamaal Charles
Charles is one of the league's best rushing and best pass-catching running backs. Though he was overshadowed last season by Arian Foster's insane 2010 campaign, Charles was actually the better RB, tallying 6.4 YPC. However, Charles was held back by his five rushing touchdowns, a number that should double with Jonathan Baldwin set to open things up for Kansas City's offense in 2011.
Dark Horse: Philip Rivers
I'm not a fan of the offensive player of the year award going to the player who also wins the MVP, but four quarterbacks in the last 10 years have gone home with both trophies. However, with three running backs (Arian Foster, Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson) having a legitimate shot to surpass 2,000 yards from scrimmage and Vick a threat to go over 5,000 combined passing and rushing yards, a quarterback will have to put up ridiculous numbers to merit both awards.
Defensive Player of the Year
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Winner: James Harrison
After winning the award in 2008, Harrison finished third in the voting last season behind teammate and winner Troy Polamalu and Packers' linebacker Clay Matthews. Harrison finished with 11 sacks, 100 tackles, six forced fumbles, and two interceptions last season. If he can get to the quarterback a little bit more next season, then he's got a great shot at winning this award.
Runner-up: Devin McCourty
McCourty emerged as one of the league's best corners in the second half of last season, picking off five passes in his last seven games. However, unlike Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis, McCourty hasn't reached the level where quarterbacks refuse to throw his way. With the addition of talented corner Ras-I Dowling and the Patriots' dynamic offense frequently jumping out to early leads, McCourty will see plenty of balls thrown his way and could record double-digit interceptions.
Dark Horse: Ndamukong Suh
A defensive tackle hasn't won this award since Warren Sapp did over ten years ago. Suh had a great rookie season, and the addition of Nick Fairley should take attention away from Suh.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
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Winner: Julio Jones
Jones is in a great position to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Unlike fellow rookie A.J. Green, Jones is surrounded by a great supporting cast and won't be forced to shoulder the offense on his own. With opposing defenses more focused on Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner, Jones should see a number of passes thrown his way. Look for Jones to get 800-1000 yards and eight touchdowns.
Runner-Up: Mark Ingram
Like Jones, Ingram will be part of a dynamic offense. However, the magnitude of Ingram's involvement in that offense remains uncertain. The Saints traded up to grab Ingram, so obviously they plan to use him a fair amount. However, Chris Ivory was very impressive last season and there's still a possibility that Reggie Bush restructures his contract and returns to the Saints. It will be very difficult for Ingram to win this award if he becomes part of a two or three-man time-share.
Dark Horse: Daniel Thomas
Like Ingram, there's a possibility that Thomas becomes part of a multi-back time-share. Either Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams could return next season and rumors circulated for a while that the Dolphins wanted to sign free agent DeAngelo Williams. In any case, Thomas should flourish behind Jake Long and Mike Pouncey, though he'll be held back by an otherwise mediocre Dolphins offense.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
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Winner: Patrick Peterson
Dubbed "the next Charles Woodson", Peterson was generally considered the most talented prospect in this draft class. He's in a great position to win defensive rookie of the year, as he will likely be the Cardinal's No. 2 corner across from Rodgers-Cromartie. Consequently, quarterbacks won't be able to throw away from Peterson, and he should be able to come up with a fair number of picks.
Runner-up: Von Miller
Von Miller, the first defensive player taken in the 2011 NFL draft, certainly has the skills to win the award, and, as the heart and soul of the Broncos pass-rushing attack, he has a great opportunity to put up numbers worthy of this award.
Dark Horse: Da'Quan Bowers
If Bowers' knee is injury-free, expect him to put up monster numbers next season. He certainly has the motivation to produce, after slipping from a potential top-five pick to the middle of Round 2. Bowers should have no trouble getting to the quarterback, while offensive lines have their hands full with Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn.